For many Midlands locals, we have all seen the “Love Howick” and “Love Notties” signs scattered about our towns, but who is behind the name? In this article, we meet Matt Hogarty, the man, husband, father, and business owner creating change, living BIG and leaving a legacy.

Growing up in the idyllic Cape Town and spending a year working in Australia, my entry point to the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands was anything but positive. I was looking for the ‘big’, the ‘vibe’, the ‘pulse’ of city life and so when I found myself back visiting family in Howick, I had absolutely no plans to stay. In fact, before anybody could ask me my plans for the future, I would blurt out, “I’m only staying three weeks before I move to the city”. Well, it’s been 19 years, and either I have changed or this beautiful corner of the world has captured my heart.

In my pursuit of ‘big’, I realised that it’s not in the size of a place or the number of trendy restaurants I can go to in the evening (this is still a dream by the way – note to all Midlands restaurants!), or even the population size that defines bigness. What I have discovered is that ‘big’ lives in the quality of people around us that have the most generous hearts. It’s found in the sense of community we share where we know the name and story of the waitress at our favourite café. It’s found in the freedom of wide-open spaces and extreme natural beauty where our kids don’t have an excuse to be tucked away behind devices but can safely be outdoors. It’s found in the shared sense of ownership we all have for our community, where when the chips are down, we don’t stand by but step into the ring and fight for our big Midlands dreams. We live ‘big’ and that’s what makes this place ‘big’.

Whether it’s a Sunday afternoon stroll in the beautiful new gardens at the trendy Fable or extravagant Brahman Hills, sipping an americano from some of our quality local coffee go-to’s like Village, Lineage, Station Stop, and Legacy Coffee Co., catching a tantalising piece of baked cheesecake at the ever-popular Piggly Wiggly, or scrumptious pizza overlooking the most exquisite view at Garlington’s – we are spoiled for choice! We love the ‘big’ open spaces of the Karkloof forests, paddling as a family on Midmar Dam with Midlands Paddling School, actively being involved in our kids’ school, Oasis Preparatory School, or simply immersing ourselves in serving at our local church, Oasis Church, which we are privileged to lead alongside incredible people.

My passion for playing a small part in furthering this legacy of ‘big’ in the Midlands has found an expression through the Love Cities Network – a network of sustainable community transformation projects aimed at bringing all sectors (business, government, NGO’s, faith-based organisations, media, and local citizens) of a local geographical area together to collaborate on solutions to the problems our communities face. We dream of partnerships that are not driven by egos or agendas but characterised by service, compassion, and integrity.

This started with Love Howick and then partnered with a group of dynamic leaders to start Love Notties, and now more recently Love Mpophomeni. These vehicles of transformation are aimed at beautifying our environment, reducing waste problems, empowering the unemployed with job skills and inspiring those with big creative dreams with the entrepreneurship development programmes, feeding and clothing the poor through our Street Stores and Urban Vegetable Gardens, plus working to provide a strategic vision where all role-players have a seat at the table to forge a prosperous future for our people.

As we look to the future, we are just plain excited.

Big dreamers, strong partnerships, and collective investment are creating the foundations for a community we believe will become a leading destination for those looking to leave the small and embrace the “big”.

Words by: Matt Hogarty